The first time I was involved in the production of a musical was in my junior year of high school. This involvement came about from me emailing the lady in charge of the production and asking to please, please let me help in some way, because I always enjoyed watching musicals and wanted to get involved in one somehow. She emailed me back the week before opening night and generously allowed me to stand backstage with the tech crew, helping to move props when necessary and otherwise watching the show from behind the curtains, aglow with happiness at being there.
Needless to say, I feel like the productions I have been lucky enough to be involved in since then have grown in scale and maturity. As I said in my previous post, from the first day of class I was intrigued by all the thought that went into every aspect of this musical, and this feeling only grew stronger with each class which let us get a glimpse at many of the departments that work hard to get a musical on its feet. In particular, I really appreciate all that we have learned with respect to the historical context of the show through the class. Along with reading the book, this has made the musical much more fleshed out for me than any other has been.
One of the historical themes of the book and musical that stands out to me a lot is that of America and what it means for its inhabitants. My father moved to the US with his family when he was quite young, and though I knew there were hardships, he tends to speak of America idealistically. At times it is difficult to fully identify with these words, as someone who was born in the US and didn’t go through the same experience, but they were what came back to me as I read the book and listened to the read-through. Several songs speak to this theme, including “Journey On,” with Tateh’s ideals of America; “Success,” which follows Tateh’s life in America and mixes his voice with those of the successful J. P. Morgan and Harry Houdini; and “Buffalo Nickel Photoplay,” which finds him as the wealthy Baron Ashkenazy. And despite this good fortune for Tateh, Ragtime quietly keeps the whole story in mind with lines such as Henson’s solemn “My people were also brought here on ships” and maybe even the very easily-disliked Conklin’s “We Irish had to get used to it!” on being treated badly. Ultimately, I think that “A Shtetl Iz Amereke” is one of the songs that really embodies this theme, with voices of various immigrants singing in different language, but together, brought together by their connection to their new home. For this reason (among others) Ragtime seems like it will always be relevant to audiences in the US, because one of its core components is something that is so ingrained in the history and identity of America.